60: Home Is Where My Mom Lives

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Amazing Mom

Home Is Where My Mom Lives

First my Mother, forever my Friend.

~Author Unknown

My mom and I are having lunch with her friend, Wanda, a woman I’ve just met, when talk turns to updates about Wanda’s family. “Wanda is so lucky,” says my mom. “All her children and grandchildren live nearby, and she gets to see them often.” She says it matter-of-factly, not to make me feel guilty for living far away, but I can hear the wistfulness in her voice, the recognition that she lacks that particular kind of luck.

I nod and continue to half-listen to the conversation, but part of me is thinking about that long-ago day when I told my mom I wanted to move to Oregon from our small town in Louisiana. I had met someone, and he lived in Portland. My heart told me he was the one, the man I would make a life with. But my head told me I had to live close enough to know for sure. I was twenty-five then, full of restless energy and enamored with the possibility of embarking on a grand adventure.

The trouble was, that adventure meant leaving my mom.

At the time, we were living almost as roommates, cleaving to each other for support during what was a difficult time for both of us. Recently divorced, my mom was known in the 1980s as a “displaced homemaker,” someone who had spent most of her adult life raising four children, putting three meals on the table day after day, and making sure the household ran smoothly. After my dad left, she attended vocational school to train in secretarial skills, and then found a low-paying job at a construction company. I, in turn, struggled to find a stable job after graduating from college during tough economic times.

We both went out with our separate friends, but we also spent time together, seeing movies or getting a scoop of ice cream to bolster our spirits after a rough day. We were buddies, pooling our resources, facing challenges, and shoring each other up.

“I need to talk to you,” I said when I could no longer delay telling her about my plan to move. “Can we sit down at the kitchen table?”

If we had created a sanctuary for ourselves in the house we shared, the kitchen table was its altar. There, we read our morning newspaper while sipping coffee and eating breakfast. We watched TV there in the evenings while keeping our hands busy crocheting, peeling pecans, or painting ceramic pieces. We sat there with friends and family who came to visit, stopping by to chat and check how we were getting along.

I don’t remember how I expected her to react. Maybe I thought she’d cry and ask me to stay. Maybe I thought she would get angry and forbid me to go. Technically an adult, I was still her child, and I believe she knew I would stay if she asked me to. Instead, she wanted to know when I planned to go and how I would get there. Then she fell silent. After a few minutes, she got up, walked into her bedroom, and sat at her sewing machine, picking up a project in progress. As the needle whirred up and down, I remained at the kitchen table, uncertain whether I should rush in and tell her I changed my mind or let myself feel giddy about the possibilities in my new life.

In reality, I couldn’t have made the move without my mom’s help and support. She lent me part of her meager savings so I would have money to fall back on until I got settled. She helped me decide what to bring, and she chose basics from her own kitchen cupboards and linen closet so I could set up an apartment. She helped me plan a driving route and pack the car. And, barely two weeks after our kitchen-table conversation, when I drove out of our driveway, she sat in the passenger seat next to me, with freshly baked banana bread in her lap.

For eight days, we acted like tourists, stopping at the Painted Desert, the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, Yosemite National Park, and San Francisco. We drove next to giant redwoods and dipped our toes in the Pacific Ocean for the first time. Eventually, we made it to Portland and found the place I would stay while I looked for a job and an apartment. She met the man I had decided to uproot my life for, and she asked him to keep me safe.

Then it was time for her to go.

“One of the hardest things I ever had to do,” she tells me sometimes when we talk about my move, “was to leave you in Portland and get on that airplane by myself to come home.”

She may have hoped it wouldn’t last. In some way, I may have hoped that too. Instead, decades have slipped by as I have built a good life away from my mom with the man who became my husband and the father of our two daughters. Her life among friends and family has been rich as well. Still, we have felt the loss of living far away from each other.

Now that I am about the age she was back then, with daughters about the age I was, I realize even more clearly the sacrifice she made by letting me go while assuring me she would be okay. One day, maybe soon, I may have to help my own daughters move away. If that day comes, I hope I can be strong like my mom, supporting whatever path they choose, even when it leads away from me.

We are lucky, my mom and me, that despite the miles between our everyday lives, we are close in every other way. We talk on the phone often and visit each other as much as we can. I confide in her, listen to her advice, and trade recipes with her.

When I visit her these days, and she introduces me to people I haven’t met, she often says, “This is my daughter from Oregon. She’s lived there thirty years.”

It’s a statement of fact that recognizes our loss as well as the full lives we have lived in spite of it.

“That’s a long time to be away from home,” people often reply.

“It’s been more than half my life,” I say, “so I guess I can call Oregon home now.” But the truth is, I know that home for me will always be where my mom lives.

~Cindy Hudson

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